Review – The Long Walk Back, Underground at the Derngate, 13th April 2019

Chris LewisDo you remember the story about cricketer Chris Lewis? He played in thirty-two Test Matches and fifty-three One Day Internationals for England between 1990 and 1998; was a county cricketer for thirteen years, and came out of retirement to play Twenty 20 matches for Surrey in 2008 – not very successfully. He was also found guilty of smuggling cocaine from Saint Lucia into the UK in December 2008, for which he was sentenced to thirteen years in prison. He was released after six years in June 2015.

Martin Edwards and Scott Baylis 2It was quite a cause célèbre at the time. Why did he do it? Surely not for the money? Didn’t he have the world at his feet? Dougie Blaxland’s The Long Walk Back goes some of the way to tackle these questions. Only some of the way though, because it also raises just as many new questions as it answers! With just a bunk bed, a wicket and a toilet as the set, Martin Edwards as Lewis and Scott Bayliss as his cellmate (whether real or imaginary is up to you to decide) act out various short scenes – in a rather stylised, non-realistic manner, that show Lewis’ distress at incarceration, his mental self-examination and his resolve to survive the experience.

Martin Edwards and Scott BaylisPersonally, I can’t imagine how I’d cope with being sent to prison. I guess, somehow, I’d manage it, but don’t press me on the details. The play does make you think how you’d behave if you were in Lewis’ shoes, as it shows how imprisonment affects not only you but your wider family and friends. It also reveals how vulnerable you are – indeed, largely at the mercy of your cellmate in order somehow to get through it all.

Martin Edwards and Scott Baylis 3You get greater clarity on Lewis’ motivations and explanations when you actually meet him after a short break for a Q&A session with Rough House Theatre Director Shane Morgan. Charming, self-deprecating, and extremely honest, Lewis comes across as a thoroughly decent man, who’s still looking for the answers himself, and using this whole theatre experience as a way of trying to sort out his head. The play tackles the question of taking responsibility for one’s own actions and it’s clear that he blames no one for what he did other than himself. A question from the audience asked whether or not the player associations should take more responsibility for what players do both during and after their career – and Mr Lewis’ answer was, basically, no.

Long Walk Back Q&AThis is an unusual way to spend a Saturday night at the theatre, and, whilst it didn’t soar to heights of great tragedy or huge revelations about the human condition, it did give you an insight into what it’s like to be someone who had it all, then had nothing, and then slowly turned their life back into something positive. The production continues to tour small venues in Bristol, Birmingham, Bath, Leicester, Nottingham and Greenwich.

Production photos by Lisa Hounsome

Review – Olly Murs, 24 Hrs Tour, Northamptonshire Cricket Ground, 14th July 2017

Olly MursWhen our friends Mr and Mrs Flying-the-Flag asked us if we’d like to join them to see Olly Murs in concert, my initial reaction was – absolutely! He’s a big name, and I was sure he’d recorded some good songs, and I always like to support the town giving us big attractions for our amusement and entertainment. After a little while, the reality kicked in. I couldn’t name any of his songs. Nor could Mrs Chrisparkle, although she knew she liked him. So one week before the concert I toddled off to iTunes and downloaded all his tracks that appeared to be popular.

Louisa JohnsonAnd, guess what? Of course we know him. He’s done so many upbeat, jolly, poppy pop songs over the past few years that it would be impossible not to enjoy an evening in his musical company. Several thousand others had clearly had the same reaction, as was clear when we joined a queue three-quarters of the way down a terraced street before you turn right to get to the Cricket Ground. Mr Flag had secured us Platinum tickets, as befits our distinguished status, which meant we could leapfrog the queue and sneak into the ground just to the right of the portaloos; distinguished indeed. It also meant we could watch the show right by the front of the stage – or at least we could have done if a few other thousand equally distinguished Ollyites hadn’t already beaten us to it. Still, we got pretty close, even if we were on the side; and we arrived just as support act Louisa Johnson took the stage.

He's on stageThat was my next question. As non-watchers of X-Factor, we hadn’t a clue who she was. Mr Flag gave us the rundown. She’s only 19! And she supports West Ham, so she’s Alright By Me. I’ll confess I can’t now remember any of the songs she sang but she was full of fun, had a great voice and personality, and had who knows how many thousands of punters in the palm of her hand.

She's on stageAfter a thirty-minute break, designed for us to go and buy some ludicrously expensive food and drink – we declined the option – the huge stage welcomed Olly Murs. Backed by a fantastic band, and loads of great backing singers, visually the whole sight of it made a huge impact. There was a screen at the back of the stage that, for some of his songs, showed quirky pre-recorded footage of him performing the very same song that he was singing live – and of course the live Olly and the pre-recorded Olly were in perfect synch. I’d not seen that done before and it was really arresting.

You Don't Know LoveHe very much geared his act towards the ladies; in fact, the way he said it, they were more like laydeez, with the guys in the audience only given the occasional passing nod. I guess this is his stage persona, but I have to say it didn’t make me feel quite as welcome as I might have liked. He also played quite a bit to the kids, which was nice, as he certainly attracts the teenage – and younger – girls. One young teenybopper jumped up and down in front of our noses for almost the entire time he was on; it’s great to see their enthusiasm. There was a bizarre moment when he was introducing a song and nearly uttered a swear word, but then he covered his mouth with his hands and said that he wouldn’t say that word because there were kids present. Funny, seeing as how the rest of the time he was implying that he’d like to shag their mothers. For his final hurrah, as he was leaving the stage after the last song, he suddenly ripped his shirt off and gave us a gratuitous ten second gawp at his chest. To be honest, I could have done without that, but I’m guessing it wasn’t for my benefit. Mrs Flag wasn’t impressed either, as she obviously prefers the more hirsute kinda guy.

Wrapped UpBut we were there for the songs, and in that department, he was absolutely ace. I recognised most of them; he kicked off with You Don’t Know Love, which was a great starter, and followed it with Wrapped Up, the essence of bubblegum pop and a huge crowd-pleaser. The others that I really enjoyed were Heart Skips A Beat – which he could probably have performed three or four times and no one would have minded; and three absolute classics of modern pop, Dear Darlin’, Mr Flag’s favourite Dance With Me Tonight, and my favourite, Troublemaker.

And another songHe showed disarming honesty by saying that normally a performer would go off at the end, wait a few minutes then come on again for an encore; but we all know the going-off is fake, so what’s the point? So he simply stayed on to perform Mrs Flag’s favourite, Kiss Me, and finally Years & Years, which I hadn’t downloaded earlier in the week, so left me slightly dissatisfied for a final memory; particularly as he didn’t sing Please Don’t Let Me Go, which is my other favourite. Still, I got a pretty good hit-rate for the songs I knew and liked. Oh – he also performed his duet with Louisa Johnson, Unpredictable. I liked it; Mrs C was not so sure. The one thing we all agreed was that he’d be perfect for Eurovision. No, honestly, he really, really would.

TroublemakerOlly Murs is a terrific showman and packed his 90 minutes with vitality and energy. Sometimes you see an established act and feel a little short-changed, as though they were phoning it in. Not so with Mr Murs, you couldn’t ask for more conviction and pizazz from a performance. He’s about two-thirds of the way through his tour, but there are still plenty of opportunities to see him all round the country between now and 27th August, and I can guarantee you’ll have a great time.

P. S. Apparently it’s compulsory at an Olly Murs concert to chant out Olly, Olly, Olly, Oi, Oi, Oi. Several waves of this refrain drifted out from the ground towards the stage during the course of the evening. I broke the bye-law by not joining in, but Mr Flag was giving it large, like the great big kid he is. I’m not sure how much Mrs Flag appreciated it being bellowed in her ear.

Review – Sir Tom Jones at Northants Cricket Ground, 9th July 2014

The CrowdFollowing on from last year’s Madness concert, this year Northants Cricket Club and the Liz Hobbs Group have brought us Sir Tom Jones, Welsh vocal superstar for many a decade, purveyor of positive coaching skills on The Voice, and boon to ladies knickers manufacturers around the world. I think it’s fantastic that we get these big names here in Northampton, so I booked on Day One to get two good seats for Mrs Chrisparkle and me, who have long been known for our ability to break out into “Why why why Delilah” in the shower or “Just help yourself to my lips” over the chip pan.

It’s easy to underestimate the time it actually takes to get into the cricket ground. This won’t mean anything to you if you’re not local, but we walked up the Welly Road and into Roseholme Road, expecting to enter the cricket ground from the southern end. Wrong. We had to walk all the way up Clarke Road to Abington Avenue from where we had to walk another two blocks away from the cricket ground simply to join the back of the queue of the people walking along the main road towards it. That was a bit frustrating, if I’m honest.

James WalshThen when we got to the ground we were harangued by charity collectors – shouting out demands for money in a manner designed to make you feel guilty if you didn’t donate. I hate being shouted at by a charity collector so didn’t donate, even though it’s an excellent local cause, and even though I had initially intended to. Note to collectors – brusque loudness can work against you. I expect the same charity will be present at the Dragon Boat Race on Sunday, in which case I will make a point of donating then (provided they don’t harangue me again). Once inside you had to have your bags checked – ostensibly to check you weren’t carrying any bombs or weapons I suppose but really so that they could take any food and drink off you so that you had to buy it inside (at inflated prices). Once actually in the ground, we joined the queue for the bar – which was at least well organised, by joining a queue from a choice of about ten and sticking to it – where we had the pleasure of paying £1 for a plastic “goblet” in which your beer would be served. The pound was redeemable at the end if you wished to queue to get it back; as if you would want to join a queue like that at 11pm. I know – I’m getting so curmudgeonly in my old age. I’m a great big grumpy old Hector.

Sir Tom JonesOur seats were the apex of a triangle – A1 and A2 in block A6. We were as far left of the stage you could be whilst ostensibly still being in the front row. It was very comfortable actually, and with an excellent side view of the stage; a bit like being in a box at the theatre – very private, bags of leg room, and a skewed view. We also had the big TV screen right in front of us. We didn’t manage to take our seats until 7.50pm so we missed Sarah Barker’s warm up act, but we got the majority of James Walsh’s act, lead singer with Starsailor. He was great! Excellent songs and a suitably modest approach to being on stage before the Great Man Himself. He thanked each round of applause with the one word, “chiz”. I’d forgotten how good “Four To The Floor” is.

Tom JonesEven when you leave home in 22 degrees Celsius, it’s easy to forget just how nippy it can be sitting down for three hours on a cricket pitch, particularly when you don’t have people left, right and in front of you. Even three layers wasn’t really enough for me and poor Mrs C, who feels the cold more than I do, only had two. I offered her my jacket constantly through the evening, which she constantly refused in order to save face. Ah, the jollities of married life. Sir Tom needed to be very good indeed in order to take our minds of the wind-chill factor.

Sir T JonesFortunately, he was. The man can sing. It’s hard to think of any other of his mid-1960s contemporaries whose voice has lasted as well as his. Paul McCartney? Cliff Richard? Well past their prime, vocally speaking. Engelbert’s nowhere in comparison. OK, maybe Mick Jagger is still a brilliant performer, but their styles are very different, and Sir Mick doesn’t normally need to bellow to get his song across. From 9.05 to 10.55 Sir Tom’s fine voice rang out over Wantage Road with more power, resonance and pitch accuracy than you could possibly imagine. It wasn’t long before the knickers started coming out – a group of ladies a few rows behind us delved deep and produced some pretty pastel panties and swung them aloft in time with the music. A few rows back a slightly larger lady produced an enormous pair of drawers with “I heart Tom” on them, and after some decorous waving, ran to the front and shoved them over the security fence to the bemusement of the St John’s Ambulance staff. The guys in the crowd thankfully fell short of whipping out pairs of Y-Fronts bearing the title “Help Yourself”. But during the course of the evening, several ladies ran in front of us, hurled lingerie towards the stage, which then got caught in the windy through-draught and got flung back at them.

Tom JTom did a very varied set – old stuff, new stuff; pop, rock, country, blues – you name it, all genres were there. We particularly loved the arrangement of Delilah (his band incidentally, were phenomenal) with lots of Spanish guitars and Latin influences – really creative and original. His earlier stuff was performed with a certain degree of reverence – It’s Not Unusual, for example, was a relatively quiet and dignified affair, but his more modern numbers, like Kiss, Mama Told Me Not To Come and Sex Bomb were flashy, raunchy and in-your-face. Of the other songs I knew, he sang The Green Green Grass of Home with great passion and sadness, and I’ll Never Fall In Love Again was also great – at least I think so, as I chose that as my “karaoke treat” of the night. It must be difficult to get the balance right of which old songs you perform and which you leave out, but I confess to being disappointed not to hear What’s New Pussycat, Help Yourself, Daughter of Darkness and She’s a Lady. And I guess the Young New Mexican Puppeteer has long had woodworm. Still, everything he did sing was incredibly good, and the crowd in general, and we in particular, had a fantastic time. Hats off to all concerned for a great night.

Northamptonshire Cricket Club v. India, County Ground Northampton, 6th August 2011

Northants v IndiaWhat do I know about the noble art of cricket? Which is the best guard? Seamers and spinners? Mid off or mid on? L B or W? Not much. But I thought it was high time I learned a bit, and it occurred to me that I had never been to a “proper” cricket match. And living a mere 30 minutes stroll from Northamptonshire’s Cricket Ground, where better to start than with their match against the touring India side, as yet not showing that much star form in their series against England.

Final scoreWell, they didn’t show much star form against Northants either. Their 1st innings total was 352 for 9. After contending with an unwelcome shower or two, Northants were left with 84 overs to beat that score. And they ended up at 355 for 7. That was with three balls to spare. Somehow, apparently, this score equates to a draw between the two sides because it was a two-innings match. Don’t quite get that, but it’s undeniably true that India didn’t win, as I had surely expected.

Happy crowdsSo what can I tell you of my day at the cricket? It was a sell-out, and the crowd were extremely friendly. As the day progressed, the Indian drums started, the flags started getting waved, and for the last two hours the cricket was almost secondary to the mini-parade of Indian fans dancing their way around the entire ground. Twice. A big local ginger lad, sporting a Northampton Saints Rugby shirt, seemed to take the Indians to heart and he headed the flag waving and dancing processions, much to the delight of the Indians in the crowd.

Will you marry my sister?We were seated in the midst of some Indian brothers, sisters and cousins, who were all very entertaining company and not afraid to make lively and frequently hilarious comments about the proceedings. I’m afraid I couldn’t identify any of the players, but when an Indian fielder came near the boundary where we were sitting (the County Stand as I now know) this guy behind us would shout out the cricketer’s name and things like “Hey! India’s Next Captain!” or “Hey! Will you marry my sister?” of “Hey! Give us a wave!” To a man the Indian cricketers in question ignored his calls, despite the fact that he had bigger lungs and better vocal projection than Pavarotti.

Andrew HallWhen Andrew Hall, the Northants Captain – not playing that day – was seen walking around the stands, this guy called out “Hey! Andrew Hall! Give us a wave!” To which Mr Hall duly gave a little wave, like the one Rowan Atkinson did on Not The Nine O’Clock News before he walked into a lamppost. Later on Andrew Hall, this time accompanied by an attractive young lady selling tickets, walked around again, now with the raffle prize, a framed bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar. It was drawing a lot of attention. The man on the tannoy called out: “People are asking what the raffle prize is and when it will be on sale. I’m not sure what the prize is but I can confirm tickets will be on sale after lunch.” Andrew Hall and his ticket lady looked at us in disbelief. “He’s making my job much harder” she complained. Mrs C and I went in for the raffle. I spent the entire afternoon fantasising about where we could put the bat if I won. Mrs C thought that Ebay would be the best location for it. In any case some other chap won it. Sigh.

Jilted fielderAs India performed worse and worse throughout the afternoon, the Indian supporters started to get a bit restless with their team. The fielder, who had earlier been considered marriage material for the girl next to me, returned to our section of the boundary. “The marriage is off – you’re useless!” she cried out.

Cricketers love giving autographs, notI hadn’t quite comprehended how the majority of youngsters attending the match spent the entire time running up and down the boundary trying to get the fielders to sign their mini-cricket bats. It’s a complete subculture. They must hardly get to see any of the real match, because they’re always leaning over the barrier waving their mini bats at these guys; who, let me tell you, look every inch as though they loathed every second of the attention. When they did sign the bats, they did it with the most scowly face imaginable.

Serious cricket fans, weI am pleased to tell you though that Mrs Chrisparkle and I had a splendid time. We sat down about 10.30am. At around 11, we had our first corned beef roll. Then at 12 we had a big bag of crisps. At 12.30 we had some stuffed vine leaves and a cheese roll. At 1.15 we broke open the Semillon Chardonnay. More rolls followed, and at about 3.30, in time for tea, we had some almond slices. Isn’t sport wonderful? It rained a little occasionally but for the most part the sun shone; being a woman, Mrs C was able to multitask watching the cricket and reading The Independent at the same time. It all finished at about 6.20pm. Incredibly good value we thought at £15 per person. We’re both keen to go again.